Date Dinner: Sushi

Okay, so this one isn’t about a cooking, but it is about a date.

I’m a fan of sushi and also a fan of women that like sushi. Now I won’t say no to a sushi-hater, but being adventurous enough to eat this Japanese treat gets you points in my book.

There are just so many good things about sushi: it’s outside of most people’s ability to properly prepare at home, it still has some air of sophistication (even if you can buy cheap stuff at  the grocery store), and I always laugh when I read “Spicy Red Snapper” on a menu.

Sushi Boat for Two?!Plus, it’s a great time to sit around a table with friends, order one of those ridiculous boats, and drink sake. I’ve actually made it a tradition to go out for sushi and Scorpion Bowls on Christmas night, after spending the day with my family. (This tradition is much more entertaining when you have the next day off.)

So, I was happy to hear that an attractive young woman was open to the idea of meeting for sushi recently. We went to Mint Bistro in Manchester, NH, which is probably the best sushi I’ve had in the state. The Boss (Ichiban) roll is by far the best on the menu (which makes sense, since “Ichiban” means “first” or “number one” in Japanese). The roll is tempura shrimp wrapped in rice, seaweed, spicy tuna, avocado, and 3 kids of caviar.

Because I was feeling like a fatty, I also ordered the Celtics roll, but Mint’s menu is updated online. But, it was also awesome, and I’m pretty sure it had tempura crab, avocado, and other stuff. (God, I’m so descriptive sometimes.)

This combination makes for an awesome eat experience, but also presents an interesting problem when on a date. You see, because these just aren’t your average little maki rolls due to multiple layers of fish and rice, the roll is pretty substantial.

Now picture me, not always the most graceful eater in the first place, sitting across from an attractive woman, trying to hold an adult conversation, and then shoving my mouth full of delicious sushi. That’s not exactly flattering, but then you have to do the whole chewing bit, which means silence.

So, to level the playing field I made sure not to actually ask her a question until her mouth was full of Iciban.

Sully – 1, Sushi – 0

Easy Pulled Pork

Over the weekend I was watching the Food Network (it’s a toss-up what’s on my television more: the Food Network or ESPN) when Ree from Pioneer Woman made some pulled pork.

When I hear pulled pork, my mind automatically thinks of true barbecue and a pork butt that’s smoked slow & low. In this case, the pork was actually braised, but still produced the same effect: tenderizing a normally tough cut of meat to the point that it can be shredded by two simple forks.

(On a side note, the cut of pork that I’m using goes by several names: Boston butt, pork butt, and pork shoulder. Personally, I like saying “pork butt” a lot, so that’s what I’m going to use.)

I really loved the simplicity of this preparation and only made a few small tweaks.

Easy Pulled Pork - Pork Butt

The first was the size of the pork butt as Ree tends to make enough food to feed a small army. Instead of purchasing a whole butt, I had my butcher at The Meat House cut the butt down to about 4 lbs. One big advantage of this was reducing the cooking time down to 4 hours.

Second, I like spicy more than sweet, so I didn’t include the brown sugar in the braising liquid. In my mind, I feel like the Dr. Pepper has enough sugar in it.

Finally, I didn’t follow the procedure about cooling the cooking liquid for use as a sauce. Honestly, I just didn’t want to go through the extra steps, especially since I knew that I was going to use some sauce from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

Even reducing the size of the butt to 4 lbs. still left me with a ton of leftovers, which is awesome. This means that I’ll be eating a lot of pulled pork this week, but I’ll make different  dishes out of it: pulled pork quesadillas, pulled pork sandwiches, pulled pork salads, and maybe a pulled pork omelet this weekend.

(Wow – I feel like Bubba from Forest Gump.)


My Interview with Tyler Florence

Tyler Florence - Food Network ChefIn the summer of 2010 my friends at dishKarma asked me to shoot down to Boston to spend some time talking with Food Network star, Tyler Florence.

Tyler was in the middle of a national tour supporting the American Dairy Association’s “got milk?” campaign. On top of this, Tyler had just released his 6th cookbook, the first season of “The Great Food Truck Race” was getting great reviews, and he had just opened his new restaurant, Wayfare Tavern, in San Francisco. As he mentions in the clip, he was having a pivotal career year.

Re-watching the video, my two favorite highlights are:

  • “Pie is the new cupcake.”
  • The description of the pie crust using pork fat.

I apologize for the poor lighting – this was supposed to be an outdoor event that got moved to the top floor of Faneuil Hall. Boston peeps will probably recognize the cameo by TV Diner host & Kiss 108 radio personality, Billy Costa.

Big shout-out to my friend Brady Sadler for the great editing work.

Kitchen Tools You Need: Knives

Nothing pains me more than cooking in someone else’s kitchen and being forced to use shitty knives. Without a doubt, this happens at a couple of places: vacation houses, homes of people that don’t cook, tailgate parties, and airport restaurants.

(No, I don’t cook in airports, but don’t understand why we can have real forks but can’t have real knives.)

Cutting VegetablesUnless you’re preparing a meal of ice cream or cereal, I’m hard pressed to think of a dish that doesn’t require you to cut something. And the act of cutting is usually the first step of any recipe, meaning that if you start with shitty tools, you’re already on your way to having shitty food.

So, be prepared to get some knife knowledge dropped on you in this post. But, before I start giving you a shopping list, let’s review some vocab.

Stamped Knife – Stamped knives are literally made by a machine using a cookie-cutter template to stamp out the knife from a piece of sheet metal. Sometimes they’re cut with a laser instead of a stamp, but it’s the same product. This means they are cheap. Really cheap. They’re practically paper wrapped in tin foil. They feel cheap in your hands and usually have a cheap plastic handle to go with the cheap blade. Even when they have an edge, they suck, and they lose that edge quickly. (In case you couldn’t tell, I don’t like stamped knives.) The ONLY time to purchase a stamped knife, IMHO, is a filet knife, because you need the blade to be nice & flexible. But, that’s it!

Forged Knife – Picture a blacksmith, working with a piece of steel, toiling through fire & sweat as he swings his hammer to create a mighty blade. This is how a forged blade is made. This means that your knife starts as a block of metal and is then molded through heat and hammer into the final product. The blade is dense, holds it’s edge, feels good in the hand, and will last you a life time. The entire blade and handle are one piece, which makes for excellent balance. Plus, most forged blades tend to be made of high-carbon stainless steel, which helps them hold an edge and not rust.

Tang – The tang is where the blade widens out into the handle. On a forged knife, the blade and tang are one piece, and the handle will be attached to the tang. (Yes, I wrote this part just to use the word “tang”. Hey, here’s a nifty way to remember which type of knife is better: forged knives get full tang.)

Since I won’t be talking about filet knives at all, let’s assume all the knives I discuss are forged knives.

What Knives to Buy

First of all, avoid the knife sets. Even the nice sets with names like Henkel or Wustoff, even though they cost several hundred dollars, which probably seems like crazy money. There’s no way that the knives in that block are all the quality you want, plus it’s doubtful that you’ll use them all.

While I know what I like for knives, I consulted my friend Andy Cox, who is a REAL chef, about what knives to get.

All you really need is a chef knife but the second a knife, or French knife. There’s two ways to go German (e.g. Henkel or Wustoff. These are heavy high carbon stainless steel, which mean they are are malleable enough to take an edge but not so soft that they will rust. I started with a Henkel Professional S Series 10″. Unless you’re going to be doing some serious chopping I recommend an 8″ for home cooks.

The second way to go is Japanese like Global knives. Also high carbon stainless but much lighter. Different feel totally. I have graduated to a Japanese knife (Mac brand) it’s a 7.5″ santoku, which means the end curves down rather than up or flat.

What you need to do is decide what feels right to you. I know places like Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table will let you handle and sometimes even try knives and they will have Henkel, Wustoff, Global, and proabably Shun knives for you to get a feel. Don’t buy a block of wustoff for $200, they are crap. Spend from $100-$130, but this knife should last for ever. Ask they sales rep about care but they are likely similar.

My Mac is only high carbon so I have to clean it immediately after each use. Once you know what you want you can go online or wait for a sale.

So there’s the professional’s opinion: get a good chef’s knife. Spend the money on this one good knife and you’ll be happy.

I couldn’t agree more. I pretty much use my chef’s knife exclusively for everything. I have 3 good knives, pictured below.

Tools to Have - Kitchen Knives

From left to right, the knives are:

I really only use the Santoku. The ceramic is nice, but you can’t use it for certain tasks due to the risk of it snapping. The Nakiri (which is Japanese for “vegetable slicer”) was actually left to me by a friend that passed away, so I really don’t use it for sentimental reasons, but it is a good knife.

But, I’m getting to the point in my culinary career where I feel like I need to make some more knife purchases. Right now I’m looking at a filet knife, a boning knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. I also may upgrade to a larger Santoku blade, but I do like the size of my Shun, as it’s big enough for most chopping & slicing, but small enough to do finer work.

Since a knife is such a personal tool, does anyone have their own preferences? (If you say stamped, I WILL cut you.)